Heirloom is one of the oldest styles of specialty sewing. This precise and delicate type of stitching is said to have started in the late 1800s by French nuns who hand-stitched exquisite laces onto delicate fabrics for royal families. Their craftsmanship was so incredible， the resulting gowns and linens were painstakingly preserved and handed down from one generation to the next； hence an heirloom. You'll see the influence of heirloom stitching in a variety of high-end garments； most notably， special occasion finery， such as wedding dresses， christening gowns， and lingerie， as well as in the finest table linens. Today， with French nuns in short supply， we show you the basics of creating heirloom stitching with your sewing machine.
Heirloom sewing， like anything else that inspires or challenges， can grab you and never let you go. You may just become completely immersed. If that happens， there are oodles of examples， projects， and techniques on websites and blogs dedicated to this specific type of sewing， including the grand dame of the category： Martha Pullen.accent pillow case baby boudoir
For our purposes， we will focus on the machine stitches and techniques that are the easiest to incorporate into your projects， whether home décor or otherwise.
As with other types of speciality sewing， heirloom stitching requires you to be precise， use specific tools for the job， sew slowly for accuracy， and understand your machine and its settings.
The fabric used， combined with some (or all) of the following details， define a project as heirloom. Most oftenpersonalized graduation gifts， the fabric choice is a mid-weight， lightweight or sheer woven， such as batiste， cotton voile or？linen.
Generally， heirloom projects are made with fabrics in white， off-white or very pale pastels， but this doesn't mean you can't make an heirloom-styled project in a bold color. You could create a category all your own!
It's best to add your decorative stitching， pintucks， etc. prior to cutting out the pieces of your project. Some of these stitching techniques can slightly alter the size of the fabric， plus many of the embellishments are meant to be precisely placed within a pattern so the embellished component needs to be completed in order to allow you to fussy cut your parts and pieces.
Very specific sewing techniques usually mean very specific tools are required. Heirloom sewing uses fine thread and needles. The needles themselves are quite varied. You're likely to find yourself asking your sewing supply retailer for items that sound like tricks off the high dive： twin needles， triple needles， wing needles， and double wing needles.
There are also special tear-away stabilizers， netting， heavy spray starch， and something called a shape board. If you want to add smocking to your heirloom designs， you'll need a pleater. Before you scream， remember you do not need all these items to do many of the basics， but if you catch the heirloom bug， you most likely will need (or want) them all!
Let's look at what to have on hand to get started.
It's very important to know your sewing machine! In heirloom sewing， you will use stitches， feet， and other features you may not have experimented with before. The brand and model of machine you have will determine exactly what you will need. With Janome as our exclusive machine sponsor， our examples were all done on the wonderful Janome models we have in the S4H studios. Plan a visit your sewing machine retailer for assistance with appropriate feet， needles and thread， as well as help with settings for your machine.
The use of twin and/or triple needles presents its own set of challenges. They can seem intimidating at first sight， but it's simply a matter of setting up the machine a bit differently than for regular sewing.
In order to use more than one thread for the needle， you need to use an extra spool pin (which may have come with your machine) and/or an additional spool stand (which you place next to your machine).
As you sew， you will get two (or three) even rows of stitching on the right side of the fabric， with a zig zag underneath (because there's only one bobbin thread). When using these types of needles， the most important thing is not to damage the machine. Make sure the needle will clear both the foot and the needle plate， especially when using a decorative stitch that swings from left to right. You control the swing by adjusting the stitch width. Also， depending on the sewing machine， twin needles are sold for center and left needle position， as well as in different sizes (a variety of widths between the needles). Remember， when using a larger twin needle (on which the two needles are farther apart)， you have to pay particularly close attention to the needle swing. We also did an overview article on decorative twin needle stitching， which has additional information and photos.
Then， there's the wing needle to consider! This type of needle has what looks like wings on either side of the shank of the needle (it is the needle to the extreme right of the grouping in the photo above). When you use a wing needle with a light woven fabric， it will create a "hole" with each stitch. This hole is actually what you want with this type of sewing. When combined with a specific type of stitching， it will create what is referred to as a "hemstitch."
We're lucky to have Janome as one of our sponsors； the models they've provided us have a twin needle setting， which prevents a user from selecting a stitch that could damage the machine when a twin needle is inserted. Our Janomes also have speed control， which helps us to slow down – very important in executing the precise stitching needed. Plus， these machines have stitches specifically designed for the various techniques we'll be showing， such as hemstitching， fagotting， and common heirloom decorative stitches. When we select these stitches， the machine tells us the appropriate foot to use， and adjusts the tension too!
Cotton covered polyester is recommended for construction， and it can also be used for decorative stitching， depending on fabric weight. However， most heirloom sewers choose to use one type of thread to construct the project and finer threads for embellishing and finishing. Finer threads include： polyester， rayon， silk， metallic， or mercerized cotton thread in a 50wt. or 60wt. Which thread you use is a personal decision. In our examples， we used a cotton covered polyester and a polyester embroidery thread for the decorative applications. Of course， if you're using a twin or triple needle， you will need more than one spool!
As we mentioned above， since Janome is our exclusive sewing machine sponsor， they've provided us with the full range of sewing machine feet. The photo above shows the feet predominantly used in heirloom sewing. There are more， and your machine manufacturer may have variations on the ones we are showing， but this is a standard group.
A. Cording foot - the type of cording this foot is designed for is embroidery floss or topstitching thread
B. and C. Pintuck foot (5-groove and 7-groove) - You need to use a twin needle with this foot， which raises the fabric into the grooves to create tiny pleats.
D. Pintuck Cord Guides - holds cording in place while it's sewn into the pintucks， creating what's known as a corded pintuck.
E. Ribbon/Sequin foot - holds tiny ribbons in place as you sew.
F. Straight Stitch foot - used on super lightweight fabrics to keep the fabric from being pulled down into the needle plate. The top of the foot is flat with just a single hole for the needle drop.
G. Piping foot - used to sew small piping.
H. Satin Stitch foot - a clear foot for sewing decorative stitches as well as many other applications.
I. Open-Toe Satin Stitch foot - similar to the Satin Stitch foot， but the front of the foot is completely open so you can better see exactly where you're sewing.
J. Gathering foot - gathers one layer of fabric while keeping the other layer flat.
K. Rolled Hem foot - used to create small rolled hem finishes on lightweight fabrics.
L. Blind Hem foot (not pictured) - used in conjunction with a blind hem stitch to finish a raw edge.
In our examples， we used a medium weight linen with colorful thread so you can clearly see the stitching. In your project， you can use thread that matches or contrasts， however， the majority of heirloom sewing is done in tone-on-tone combinations.
Since our linen is a mid-weight， we used a little spray starch on the fabric for certain stitches and tear-away stabilizer for others. Depending on the fabric you select， you will need to do the same or both. If you decide to learn more about heirloom sewing， you will become more familiar with ways to support lightweight fabric in order to sew and embellish it.
Always mark your first line of stitching exactly where you want it. After than， use the edge of the foot or another positioning mark on your selected foot as a guide for any subsequent lines of stitching. Because the fabric used is often very light in color， it's nice to be able to avoid having to mark with a traditional fabric pen or pencil. True， many of these tools are designed to wipe or wash away， but the delicate nature of the fabric makes that a less desirable method. There are marking options that vanish with exposure to the air or the heat of an iron， but in general， try to keep marking to a minimum where possible.？
Sew slowly with any of the techniques outlined below. This will help you be more precise and achieve optimal results.
Once your machine is set up to sew with a double or triple needle， you can create a number of variations by changing the foot， the stitch and/or adding cording into the mix. Below we show you examples of each. Twin needle is the predominate choice in heirloom sewing for attaching the various laces and trims to fabric. It's also used to create shadow effects on a folded hem.
In heirloom sewing， hemstitching is one of the most popular techniques. This stitch， like all of heirloom sewing， used to be done by hand. Threads were removed from the fabric to purposely create holes that were then sewn over by hand with decorative stitching. Today， you can use your sewing machine and a wing needle to create the same look.
Similar to using a twin or triple needle， you need to take a little extra precaution when using a wing needle. If your sewing machine has a built-in needle threader， you will not be able to use it. You also need to be careful about the width of the stitch you select so the wings do not hit the foot or needle plate. Depending on the type of sewing machine you have， you may have pre-set stitches for hemstitching. Otherwise， you need to use a stitch that is repetitive in the way it's formed， meaning it needs to go in and out of the same hole a few times in order for the wings on the needle to help create a hemstitch finish.
NOTE： Earlier we mentioned something called a double wing needle. These are also used to create hemstitching， usually in combination with sewing lace to fabric.
You may be inspired by our examples to embellish your next placemat， napkin， curtain or pillow project. Before you run over to your sewing machine， we want to talk a little bit about turning corners.
Each of the techniques we used are great border ideas， but if you plan on going around a square or rectangular shaped project， you need to think about how you're going to pivot at the corners. Of course， it all depends on which stitch you select and what type of needle you're using. We always recommend you test everything on scraps first， and this is no different.
We have only scratched the surface of heirloom sewing with this tutorial. If you're excited by what you've learned here， we encourage you to seek more information. There are are books and blogs， as well as specially trained instructors who teach the art of heirloom in classes at fabric stores and sewing machine retailers around the country and the world.
Here are just a few extended resources to investigate：
Fine Machine Sewing by Carol Laflin Ahles？is a wonderful book， covering the proper tools as well as the many heirloom stitching techniques.
As we mentioned above， Martha Pullen is a leading expert in the area of heirloom sewing. She offers supplies， books， DVDs， patterns， and more on her website.
If you own an embroidery machine， there are many sources for heirloom embroidery designs. Three companies with selections dedicated to heirloom are Zundt Designs， Criswell Embroidery &； Design and Jenny Haskins.
Today's heirloom items are made with the purpose of being passed on to future generations just as they were so many years ago. Enjoy experimenting with these basics； who knows where you'll go from there!
Sample Creation and Instructional Outline： Jodi Kelly
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